A thanks to Edward Harrison who publishes the blog “Creditwritedowns.com” for his superb explanation of foreclosure and title issues dealing with “foreclosed” properties – in his commentary “What are the legal rights of lenders and homeowners in foreclosure?” It was that article which inspired me to write about some of the legal ramifications, based upon his research and analysis.
There is a lot of material in Mr. Harrison's commentary, so for those interested in this issue, I recommend going to the source to read it in full. I intend to focus on two of the extremely important issues in that piece: the question of who holds title to a securitized mortgage, and (just as important) who has “standing” to initiate and prosecute a foreclosure.
For people with no familiarity with legal jargon, who has “standing” in a legal proceeding is a question of “proximity” to the case before the court. The test for this issue generally being some direct proprietary interest.
The problem for the Wall Street oligarchs, as they began to hatch their schemes to create the U.S. housing bubble (and their own, concurrent Ponzi-scheme) centered on the importance of their new “invention”: mortgage “securitization”. It is this “securitization” which was the key to creating the U.S. housing-bubble from the supply side – rather than most asset-bubbles which are (at least initially) fueled by demand.
Through this process, banks initiate a mortgage – and then immediately sell it to a 3rd-party. If Wall Street didn't initiate the mortgage themselves, then they became the first buyer in the chain. Once holding this mortgage, these “financial wizards” sliced-and-diced these mortgages, mixed them together, and packaged and sold them in such a convoluted manner that even with the resources of the U.S. legal system at their disposal, courts have been unable to determine who holds clear, legal title to these mortgages.
However, the Wizards of Wall Street anticipated this legal dilemma. In 1995, they created a shadowy entity called Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS). Wikipedia defines MERS in this manner:
Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems is claimed to be a privately held company that controls a confidential [emphasis mine] electronic registry designed to track mortgages and the changes of servicing rights and ownership of mortgage loans in the United States.
Before I explain the role being played by MERS, and the importance of that role, let me get back to securitization. The reasons why it was absolutely essential in creating a housing-bubble, and Wall Street's subsequent scams are relatively straightforward, when laid out step-by-step.
Wall Street pretended they were “reducing risk” by securitizing these mortgages and more or less moving them off of their own balance sheets. At first, this was probably true: by taking a fixed amount of debt, and dividing it amongst more people, the risk to the system as a whole (and the individuals) is reduced.
As a simple, numerical example, if I take $100 dollars of debt and initially divide that amongst 10 people, there is a given level of risk for each of these individuals and for the system as a whole (if too many parties should default). If I then split that same $100 dollars of debt and divide it evenly among 100 people, then that reduces both the individual risk and the systemic risk – since the smaller the individual debt, the lower the probability of default. The problem was that Wall Street (and the other players in this market) never intended for the amount of debt to remain fixed.
If you then take the same numerical example, but repeat that process nine more times you now have $1000 worth of debt (ten times the original amount) – but split amongst a group which is ten times larger. Thus, not only do the risks of each party revert to the original ratios (and risks of default) but the systemic risk is ten times greater because ten times more money and ten times more players are now identically leveraged.
It was through these debt “daisy-chains” that the Wall Street oligarchs were allowed to move from the reckless-but-standard 10:1 average leverage for this sector to an insane average of 30:1.
The problem was that both ratings agencies and regulators still pretended that there had been neither an increase in individual risk nor in systemic risk. To persuade these accomplices to “look the other way” with respect to risk required adding one, more ingredient: “credit default swaps” (CDS).
These were bogus “insurance policies” created by Wall Street to “insure” its entire Ponzi-scheme. This provided the pretext for credit-rating agencies to continue rubber-stamping “AAA” on these toxic securities, and allowed regulators Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner (head of the New York Fed, at the time) to pretend that “systemic risk” was being “controlled”.
As I say, this was clearly and obviously fake “insurance”. Because everyone was pretending that systemic risk was only a tiny fraction of what it actually was, the same regulators allowed Wall Street to only list a tiny fraction of the necessary collateral/assets to write such “insurance policies”. It was through the willful participation of the ratings agencies and the Federal Reserve that Wall Street oligarchs supposedly “insured” over $50 trillion of credit default swaps – obviously an impossibility.
We need look at only one recent example of a credit default swap which “blew up” to make it clear that most of this market was a complete sham. In “Bankster Sues Bankster – AGAIN”, I referred to a lawsuit between Citigroup and Morgan Stanley.
In this example, it was Morgan Stanley which wrote the phony “insurance”, and Citigroup which was the beneficiary. Even after Morgan Stanley liquidated the collateral which “backed” this “insurance”, it is facing a 300:1 pay-out on this “policy”. With the entire U.S. mortgage market still sitting with a 10% delinquency level in this $50 trillion insurance scheme, and with each and every pay-out at astronomical odds (due to the grossly insufficient “collateral” for this insurance), a large number of pay-outs in this market must bankrupt Wall Street – as a matter of simple arithmetic.
This is yet another reason why Wall Street is hiding millions of already-foreclosed properties on their books – and refusing to sell them. The moment that the foreclosure sale takes place, the loss on the mortgage is “crystallized” and the credit default swaps are triggered. In my commentary on Friday, I explained how/why I estimated that Wall Street is currently hiding at least 5 million foreclosed properties in this manner. Meanwhile, the next big wave of foreclosures is just to about to begin (also covered in Friday's commentary).
Returning to the housing bubble, the conspiracy by U.S. regulators and U.S. ratings agencies to allow Wall Street to leverage the entire U.S. financial system by 30:1 (from 10:1) meant roughly three times as much financing available for the same size of housing market. To accommodate the most rapid and extreme flow of “easy money” in the history of human commerce, many if not most U.S. banks simply erased their “lending standards”. Two years before the U.S. housing bubble officially burst “liars loans” had already become a common term of usage within the financial sector. Again, U.S. regulators were silent accomplices in allowing the eradication of lending standards.
Even without the use of such colourful terms to describe this fraudulently-created housing bubble, it would be obvious to any responsible regulator, rating agency, or banker that if you suddenly lend-out three times as much money to a population whose real incomes are steadily falling that their must be a huge increase in defaults. Thus, not only was this housing bubble a massive fraud on the individual level (through liars loans and other derelictions of duty), but collectively it was also a massive fraud, as it had to be obvious to the U.S. government (and specifically the relevant regulators) that there was an unsustainable “bubble” in the sector, as a whole.
This means that day after day, when Ben Bernanke got in front of the microphone to call the U.S. markets, the U.S. housing sector, and the economy as a whole a “Goldilocks economy” (where everything would keep going up in value) he could not possibly have believed his own words. They were uttered solely to enable the multi-trillion dollar Wall Street Ponzi-scheme to ensnare more victims.
It was thus apparent before the Wall Street-created U.S. housing bubble began that it would end in an unprecedented wave of foreclosures and defaults. In Part II, I will discuss Wall Street's premeditated plan for dealing with these foreclosures, through its new “front man”, MERS.
[Disclosure: I hold no position in Citigroup or Morgan Stanley]